Samsung’s new Smart TV makes your telly look like an iPad – programmes and services displayed as neat square apps ready to be summoned in a click. But has television (and more pertinently the television industry) finally embraced digital and social technologies to enhance the viewing experience?
TV’s path to embracing the web has not exactly been straightforward. In the beginning (let’s say for argument about 10 years ago) the TV industry worried a great deal about the young digital upstart. They worried that the advent of ‘new media’ would eat into TV watching time. They worried that PVRs would allow people to skip ads and hence reduce revenue. They worried that people would make their own programmes, stick them on YouTube and never switch on their TV set again. These fears even led some like comms giant Viacom to adopt a siege mentality and sue their way out of things.
On the other hand you had corporations such as the BBC who couldn’t get enough of digital (although some would argue that their license fee model made it easier for them to do this commercially). But other commercial players did start to embrace digital technology and so it was that two very distinct attitudes began to emerge. These went along the lines of:
- Oh crap, things have got too complex I will put my head in the sand now / call the lawyers
- This is great, we now have loads more opportunities to connect with our audience (and make money)
10 years on and there are no prizes for guessing who has had the most success. These are the people that did not try to cling on to the old model but embrace the new. PVRs might mean lost revenue from people skipping ads, but making content available on demand on the web provided alternative ad revenue opportunities (e.g. 4OD who have achieved a very slick integration). YouTube could be perceived as a threat or it could be a good way to reach a new audience and promote their content (like HBO for example).
And did everyone start making their own TV programmes? No, because it’s far too much trouble! The fact remained, if you make or commission good content then you have a bunch more channels to distribute it on. Channel 4 understood this a few years ago. When we made the Big Brother facebook app the brief was to find ‘alternate ways to distribute video content’. We took that, created an app that mimicked the format of the show and added social share for good measure. And since then many people have been doing even more wonderful things have been done at that place where TV meets digital.
Here are a few lessons we’ve picked up along the way:
Not everyone can make great TV, but everyone can take part
Yeah ok, so someone can get a gazillion hits by filming their dog fall off a log or their son biting their other son, but consistently delivering great content ain’t easy. User generated content bears this out – most of it is drivel.
But people CAN and should be encouraged to take part.
Whether it’s rating, sharing, commenting viewers can participate in small (easy) ways. Simply providing these tools and listening to what viewers want are good steps towards making your channel customer-centric. The 1 9 90 rule continues to apply – 1% people create content, 9% curate (share, comment, rate) but 90% of people will always just quietly consume without participating thank you very much.
It’s about the user experience
Or more specifically, letting me access content when and where I want, helping me feel part of it, helping me get more. Radio seemed to get this a lot quicker than TV did, and for me personally, digital completely transformed the way I experienced it as a medium. Catching up on programmes I had missed, discovering new ones I didn’t know about and finding supplementary content about stuff I was listening to right now, informal tweets throughout the show, all this added to the experience.
TV-wise of course the original is BBC Red Button. Never reaching early promise (possibly because it is still clunky and been sidelined by iPlayer) RB still comes into its own when there is multiple content to choose from, for example at sporting events where you can choose which match to watch. Other (supplementary) content you can find quicker by googling on your phone.
Elsewhere commercial carriers are overcoming technical challenges to offer ‘TV Anywhere’. SkyGo allows subscribers to watch on your laptop, iPad or iPhone (i’ve already seen guys keeping an eye on the football under the table while out ‘socialising’).
TV is a social event
There is still room for the shared experience – it’s just that the water-cooler moment occurs in real-time over the web. Live events are the obvious candidates to benefit from ‘dual screen’ activity, but from #HIGNFY to #EducatingEssex, lots of other programmes have started displaying their Twitter hashtags to bring people together around their content.
And apps like IntoNow socialise the TV experience further, connecting people in real-time around their shared viewing experience. Hulu have just launched a Facebook app meaning users can watch TV clips without leaving Facebook.
Channels still have a place
There is talk of threat to channels by ‘disintermediation’ startups such as Google TV and Boxee. These promise cheaper, pay-as-you-use models for consumers and increased revenue for content producers by offering direct distribution to audiences .
However there are a few factors that have stopped this happening for now. The first is supply-side: programmes like Mad Men involve a huge risk and guaranteed income from networks and cable providers is a way to help programme makers sleep better at night.
For consumers, other forces are at work. Firstly we’re overwhelmed with a myriad of stuff so we need someone to curate for us. Also we’re quite lazy and need you to make great series like Mad Men so we can sit back, switch on the telly and forget about life for a while. We understand that you might have to show us a few ads but if this means great content for free then that’s an exchange we understand.